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Whistler X Triathlon returns for first race post-COVID-19

Over 150 athletes took part in the off-road triathlon that took place at Lost Lake Park.
Whistler X Triathlon
Racers hit the water for the first leg of the Whistler X Triathlon on Saturday

After more than a year, the Whistler X Triathlon returned to the Lost Lake trails on Sept. 12. But even as recently as a couple months ago, it was still uncertain whether triathletes in the area would have to wait another year for the off-road race.

“We had decided that we weren’t going to do it just because of the challenging environment and the unknowns, but one day I had a good swim with some friends and got out and just decided, ‘I guess we better do it,’” said race director Dale Tiessen. “So I phoned my partners that helped me put on the event and said, ‘Let’s get it off the ground.’ So we went from zero to running the event in about 10 days and got registrations open, and the first day there was 100 people, so there was definitely a demand.”

In total, the race consisted of 151 athletes split into two categories: sport and championship. In the sport category, racers started with a 750-metre swim, followed by a 12-kilometre bike ride and finished off with a five-kilometre run. In the championship category, all those distances were doubled.

Even before racers hit the water at the 8 a.m. start time, the energy and excitement level among the athletes was high, and it kept rising as they started to filter through the inflatable arch at the finish line with big smiles on their faces, and the crowd cheering them on. And whether it was experienced triathletes or those running in their first ever triathlon, everyone was just happy to be back racing again.

“It’s been two years since we raced here last and for me, personally, it’s nice to have race opportunities again, because you spend your career doing this stuff, so it’s nice to have one where you wake up in your own bed and you just roll out and ride to your race start,” said professional triathlete and Whistler local Karsten Madsen.

“This race, even in a COVID-weird year, has so many people that come out just because of the general vibe of the community. I’ve raced in other places in the U.S. and in other countries and people are a little bit more, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do that, it’s not for me.’ But in Whistler, it doesn’t matter the event, the town is up to the challenge.”

For Madsen, who races in triathlons all over the world and trains every single day to keep his top-15 world ranking in the sport intact, the Whistler X Triathlon was more about enjoying the day and the return to events than it was about pushing himself to the limits even if his goal was still to win, which he did by about 30 minutes.

But for others, like good friends and new moms Liz Francis and Nina Harmon, the race was about challenging themselves and getting back to their former racing ways after giving birth to their first children recently.

“Nina and I have been racing together in triathlon for [years]. This is the first race post-COVID, but also first race post-baby and honestly my goal was just to cross the finish line. And being able to race with Nina again is just so awesome and was definitely the most emotional cross over the finish line for me,” said Francis.

Both Francis and Harmon beat their personal goals of racing a sub-1:50 time, finishing in 1:47:06 and 1:45:02, respectively. Both cracked the top 25 in the sport category.

The winner of the sport category, with a time of 1:30:39—39 seconds behind his target—was former Whistler local, now Vancouver resident, Peter Slavkovsky, who raced competitively in triathlons pre-COVID-19 but decided to run in the sport category due to not having trained much in the last year.

“I haven’t swum in two years, or this year at all pretty much, so I just came here to enjoy the atmosphere and do my home trial here in Whistler because I feel at home here,” he said.

“I just [wanted] to finish the race, and I came first. I didn’t really expect that at all. I came from the bike and I didn’t see any bikes on the rack and I was super surprised at what was happening.”

This year’s Whistler X Triathlon was initially supposed to be a qualifier for the 2022 Triathlon World Championships in Townsville, Australia. But with the current state of the pandemic in Australia, that event has already been cancelled. However, Tiessen hopes that they will be able to get back to being a qualifier at next year’s race.

But with no major hiccups throughout the day, and the loss of the World Championship qualifier status being the only negative that comes to mind, Tiessen described the event this past weekend as “super successful.”

“We had a great event. All the athletes are very thankful. I am very thankful because we had a lot of volunteers and without them the event just can’t happen. There is a ton of experience behind the scenes helping to make sure the event was successful, so it’s been pretty non-stressful,” he said. “The weather turned out amazing and everybody coming across the finish line [was] all smiles and other than a few scraped elbows and knees we’ve had no major incidents.”